As a sports fan, there are some American sports that I "get" and others that I really don't. Basketball and American "Football" fall into the former category, whilst Baseball is firmly fixed in the latter.
Baseball however, is one of those things like "Mom's Apple Pie" that is quintessentially American so when Mrs Gilly was offered a set of free tickets (face value $5) to a game between the Washington Nationals and the Phillies (her home town team and officially the "losingest (sic) team in sports" we headed off to RFK Stadium.
The basics of Baseball are pretty simple - effectively Rounders with testosterone: one team in the field with a guy throwing the ball, one team batting with a guy out in the middle trying to hit it and to advance round the bases - fairly simple to understand for the newcomer. Clearly it's a little more complex then that but in principle, you can walk into a game, never having heard of the sport and very quickly catch on to what's going on.
Understanding the game is made even simpler by the fact that there were long chunks of time when nothing happened during which I could ask the knowledgeable guy in front. Very long chunks of time in fact. This I found surprising as American sport has a reputation for always having plenty going on - short bites of action interspersed with plenty of commercial breaks to pay all the inflated salaries. Certainly, baseball is like cricket with ADD - the innings are short and the teams are constantly changing over - but watching one side sit down whilst the other gets up is hardly the stuff that highlight reels are made of.
Reading up on baseball and speaking with people about the game, it seems that the fact that it's boring is widely acknowledged (Google yielded 135,000 references when I searched for "baseball boring" - whilst "cricket boring" only came up with 96,700). The celebrated "7th innings stretch" whereby everyone gets out of their seats and stretches their legs was actually a high point. That everyone sings "take me out to the ball game" at this point (presumably every game) was very endearing.
So here's my take on the game and why it's so boring - basically the moments of excitement are when the batsman hits the ball forwards. In baseball the advantage is skewed in the direction of the pitcher due to the fact that the bat is skinny and rounded so that in order to get a worthwhile hit you've got to be extremely exact. The vast majority of the time therefore, the batter is either missing the ball or fouling it (the ball flies off behind or to the sides) - and therefore you're in yawn territory for 90% of the 3+ hours of the game. Moments of excitement are either fleeting (we had 3 home runs) or far between (batsman on bases hoping that the one at bat is going to hit something - most often coming up blank).
By way of comparison, cricket is of course a far longer game, even in the limited overs format, but as the batsman has to hit the ball in order to stay out in the middle there is a lot more going on. It's also a far more tactical game - I was unable to discern any difference in the field settings in baseball throughout the game - for cricket it's essential.
Even with the kosher hot dog stand, beer during the game and a free ticket, I walked away no closer to understanding its appeal and with the feeling that it lend itself far better to a short summary of the highlights on the news - it's an experience which I doubt will be repeated. For the record, the Phillies didn't add to their losses, taking this one 4 - 2.